Monday, 29 September 2014

Time to ditch the tripod bush?

Walking closely behind a photographer with a long lens and camera on a tripod, or behind a birder with a telescope or digiscope combination on a tripod, can be hazardous as legs, camera, lens or scope move in all directions. It can also be nerve racking. The £10,000 camera and lens suddenly become loose and fall to the ground. Fortunately, when I saw this happen, the camera and 400 mm lens landed in thick scrub and were unharmed. Another few steps and that expensive combination would have landed on sun-baked, hard earth. Another trip on the same continent saw the telescope falling off inches away from an African escarpment. Only some fast foot work by the person walking behind saved it from rolling downwards a thousand feet.

The common factor in these near horror stories is, of course, the tripod bush. That small threaded hole is also responsible for lost shots and lost sightings because the attachment becomes loose and the long lens cannot be aimed properly. Frequent stops to tighten the screw are a common occurrence during wildlife photography and viewing expeditions.

The universal tripod bush with its own ISO specification is, regardless of whether it is 1/4 or 3/8 inch, to use that hackneyed phrase of politician-speak, not fit for purpose. It does not fasten, it merely attaches the fitment for a while until the latter is shaken loose by movement. Of course, a tiny camera will stay fixed but the torque from a long lens being carried on a tripod soon loosens the screw fitting even when considerable force has been used to tighten the screw before use.

Several ways of securing the screw fitting between tripod or tripod plate and camera, lens or scope have been suggested, for example, the anaerobic adhesives that lock screw threads and plumbers’ tape. These bodges work for a time but always eventually fail at a critical moment. One telescope manufacturer made a fixing foot to fit directly into a proprietary tripod head in order to avoid the use of the bush. I also see that a manufacturer of light adventure video cameras has devised a different method of attaching the cameras to supports. But the mainstream user of long, heavy lenses has nothing but the unreliable screw fixing into the tripod bush.

So, can anything be done not only to prevent the disaster of a falling camera-lens combination but to remove the worry that it might happen. Surely, the mechanical engineers out there can come up with a simple, effective solution. All that’s needed then is for all the camera, telescope and tripod manufacturers to agree on a common fitting. Ah yes, that last bit might prove more difficult than the first but the message is: consign the threaded tripod bush to the history books; we need something better.